There is no shortage of information about the business of photography. Everyone’s got an opinion that sometimes conflicts with others opinions and this can cause some confusion. The tough part is, what works for one person may not work for another. With that being said, there is a core set of principles that most successful photography businesses adhere to and that’s what I wanted to explore here. Below are the myths surrounding some of these principles and their reality.
Myth 1: Professional photographers only do what they love
Reality: While we do get to do what we love we also have to do a lot of what we don’t. Unsuccessful photographers only do what they love. The successful ones wear many hats, we are sales people, accountants, client relations, sometimes repairmen/women, and a litany of other job titles. The point is, to be successful at photography one must be willing to do whatever it takes… Success will evade the “I just want to do what I love” folks (the correct attitude is “I do what I have to so I can do what I want to”).
Myth 2: All you need is a website and a Facebook page for clients to start throwing themselves at you
Reality: Nope. I can only think of one job profession that this works for, and it’s illegal in most areas. Whether you plan on shooting weddings, portraits, fine art, or kitty cats, you’ll need to do a healthy dose of networking and cold calls if you want to be successful.
I can still remember the first photography workshop I did. After I had established my website and a good reputation I figured all I’d have to do is publish an article announcing the workshop would be available and people would line up around the imaginary internet block… Nope. I quickly learned my lesson and advertised my second workshop, printed fliers to personally hang in all the towns surrounding Pittsburgh, and reaped the reward of a full workshop.
Boston – 2017
Myth 3: You get to make your own hours
Reality: Photography is tough, man. Ask a wedding photographer who got up at four in the morning to get on site, set up, and then coordinate an entire day of wedding/reception shots, only to end at one in the morning the next day realizing they only ate a couple of power bars and drank a coke over the last 24 hours.
Or how about this… I got a call for a commission that paid really well, the only catch was I had to fly to another state the next day to photograph a city I had never been to or had time to research. I ended up walking north of 15 miles a day over a four-day period, working from before the sun rose until after, in order to get the client the images they needed.
The truth is, photographers rarely work only when they want to, the hours can be quite brutal. If it isn’t the client dictating when you need to be here or there, it’s the light. There are many mornings I’d rather be having my coffee and sitting in front of this computer in my comfortable chair than rushing out the door at 4 in the morning to be where the morning fog is just starting to lift so I can get a decent photograph.
Myth 4: All you need to be professional is professional gear
Reality: The truth is, gear matters. Just not in the order many think it does. Buying professional gear doesn’t make the photos great, the photographer does. Invest in learning what it takes to be a better photographer and you can make great photos with whatever gear you have on hand. Once you improve your skill as a photographer, then professional gear can make a big difference.
When I started my photography business I made an important decision not to invest anything into the business that I didn’t make from the business.* This meant that I didn’t go out and drop thousands of dollars on new gear. I used the camera I had to earn money with this website and eventually upgrade my gear (my first “professional” camera was a Olympus Pen). I still follow that same principle and only invest into my business what I make… The only difference is now I make more than I need to invest back into the business, meaning I can build my savings for a rainy day.
*I had to invest a few hundred dollars into a domain name and a years worth of web hosting in order to start making money with the website.
Myth 5: Professionals never work for free
This might be the most interesting myth for those of you starting out in photography and professionals who find themselves plateauing from time to time. If you’ve read articles where professionals chastise other photographers for giving their work away for free I think it’s important to remember that there are exceptions to every rule. For instance, I will do free work if it gets my foot in the door to photograph something I want to, something that builds my portfolio and sets me apart from others.
Another exception, that should be a requirement for professional photographers, is the personal project. At any given time I have three or four different personal projects going on that I pour resources into (like travel, specific gear, etc.). I don’t get paid directly for these projects but more often than not I will get business from the results. More importantly, by completing projects that challenge us we are able to improve our skills as photographers which makes us even more marketable to potential clients.
The myths above are just a handful of misconceptions floating around the deep dark web. What are some of the myths you’ve heard? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. You can follow me on Instagram @PhotolisticLife.